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© Alex Holyoake / Unsplash
© Alex Holyoake / Unsplash

The Unofficial New Yorker's Dictionary

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 6 March 2018

What did one New Yorker say to the other? This isn’t the start of a bad joke, but a genuine question that can plague non-locals. There’s no place in the world like New York, and as such, some local slang doesn’t translate. Leave your interpreter at home – here’s the unofficial New Yorker’s dictionary. 


Like many New York terms, “schlep” derives from the Yiddish language (see also: “schmear”). It’s used to refer to a tedious or lengthy journey, as in: “I’m not making the schlep to LIC for a 40-minute yoga class”.


Part-grocery store, part-convenience store, and part-deli, the bodega is a sacred place to New Yorkers. It’s where you go for your morning bacon-egg-and-cheese, your emergency toothpaste, and for some locals, your only human interaction of the day.


The word “hood” has several meanings for New Yorkers. It could refer to a low-income area (as in, “Fights are always breaking out in the hood”) or to ghetto or gangster qualities (for example, “He starts fights because he’s hood”).

The city

Technically, New York City includes Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. However, when a local refers to “the city,” they’re speaking strictly of Manhattan. The other city components are known as outer boroughs.


Unrelated to the angry New Yorker stereotype, “mad” is an adverb interchangeable with the qualifier “very”. This term adds emphasis to any word which follows. For example: “I found the coolest victrola at Brooklyn Flea, but it was mad expensive”.


If you spend time in New York between the months of December and February, you’ll likely hear this word thrown around (possibly accompanied by expletives not needing translating). Describing something, such as the weather or a restaurant, as “brick” is a way of saying that it is extremely cold.

Rent stabilized

In New York City, a majority of locals do not own property. Instead, they spend years renting and searching for that holy grail of listings: the rent stabilized apartment. This term simply means that renters will be protected from major increases in the rent listed on their lease, which they have the right to renew. (If this seems confusing, don’t worry: New Yorkers spend their entire lifetimes never encountering this term).

On line

In New York City, you’ll encounter plenty of lines, which New Yorkers wait on rather than in. Lines here are the same as anywhere else, except for the fact that locals will always tell you to stand “on line” instead of “in line”.


Your cab driver, bodega guy, and doorman are all collectively known as “boss” in New York City. Equally respectful and familiar, this form of address is used to refer to anyone in the service industry and is mainly directed toward males.


Another Yiddish-language word, “schmear” is a must-know term in New York City, where you’ll be ordering lots of it. Essentially a generous (and we do mean generous) portion of cream cheese, locals enjoy schmear on bagels, with lox, and in sandwiches.


Non-locals should always feel free to ask about the meanings of New Yorker slang except when the term “tight” is involved. An adjective, “tight” means very upset, as in: “These tourists are getting me tight”.